By: Mary K. Pratt
As Appeared on Boston Business Journal: http://boston.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2009/06/15/focus2.html
Sid Lejfer saw two choices for his former business: raise the capital he needed to bring the company to the next level, or sell it. On the advice of his investment bank, he decided to sell.
"The stars were aligned. There were lots of mergers and acquisitions going on, there was lots of cash, and the multiples were good," Lejfer said.
So in April 2000, Lejfer sold Success Automation, a customer relationship management consulting and training firm he had started in 1987 and built to $5 million in revenue. But even though the timing was right, Lejfer - who is currently CEO at Harvest Solutions LLC, a CRM, sales force automation and business analytics consulting firm in Waltham - said the process was still a difficult one, proving that selling a business, even in a robust economy, can test just about any entrepreneur.
"The best time for a seller to look at selling is when they don't need to, when they're in a position of strength," said Russell N. Stein, chairman of the Corporate & Business Law Group at Ruberto, Israel & Weiner PC.
But beyond getting the best price, business owners need to be emotionally ready to sell, too. Michael Nolan, managing director of Braver Business Strategies, a Newton-based management consultancy for small and medium-size companies, said owners should give themselves at least three years, which allows them time to accept the sale as well as clean up the balance sheet, income statements and inventory.
That time also allows them to train other executives, who could stay on with the buyer to help run the business.
Much of this, Nolan said, is just good management that should happen regardless of when a sale might happen. That doesn't mean it's always practiced.
Nolan said he has seen owners who aren't sure when they want to get out, so they don't make investments in new processes or equipment, which quickly drags down the company's value. That's why Nolan said he likes to advise owners to run their businesses with an exit strategy in mind, so they're more likely to manage it in ways that bring ongoing maximum value.
Howard Gross, who has sold three companies and bought five, said he took that approach with the businesses he has helped manage. He talked specifically about his last company, the Lincoln, Neb.-based Snyder Industries Inc., which he bought in 1991 and sold in 2005. He also served as the company's CEO.
Gross said he stayed with the company longer because he enjoyed the work. But he got to a point where he was ready, financially and emotionally, to go. And because of his and his partner's management approach as well as their ongoing investments into growing the company - something that buyers find attractive as it gives them something for the future - the timing was right.
"A great time to sell a company is when EBITDA multiples are high and there is a great history in terms of the ebbs and flows," Gross said, referring to Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization. "And you try to sell at the height of the economy, when it has had a lot of growth and there's capital available. It's not that much different than the stock market."
Following that approach yielded Gross a sale price 15 percent more than he had expected.
But Gross, who now teaches entrepreneurship at Babson College and Harvard Extension School, said he also has seen business owners who make poor salesmen.
"There are people who just love their business so much and have so few interests outside that they don't think about the financial interest and they sell too late," he said.